To Manage Gun Violence, Advocates Must Become Moderates

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Two children visit a memorial for the victims of the Sutherland Spring shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

On November 5, gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, clad in all black tactical gear and armed with a semi-automatic tactical rifle, entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and began firing on churchgoers, killing 25 people and an unborn child and wounding 20 others. The shooting was the fifth deadliest in United States history and came just a month after the country’s deadliest mass shooting on record, the Las Vegas shooting, killed 58 on October 1.

Recently, mass shootings have spiked in every statistic, from total deaths per year to the number of deaths per shooting. Seemingly every study seems to point to the conclusion that mass shootings in the United States are becoming increasingly common and increasingly deadly. The Texas shooting is only the latest mass shooting to spark a new debate over gun control and the laws surrounding guns, but, as we have seen over and over, not much has come out of these debates. Proper discourse is of course necessary to pass any law, but the issue with gun control is that the extremes of both sides are pitted against each other rather than more moderate positions. Being pro-gun control has suddenly turned into being anti-gun rights, and being pro-gun rights has suddenly turned into being anti-gun control. This kind of spin, seen on both sides of the political spectrum, is both extremely damaging to actual solutions to gun violence and is rather incorrect.

The reality is that, according to Gallup, only 5% of Americans believe that gun regulations should be less strict than they are now, yet only 28% of Americans believe that handguns should be banned for all persons other than law enforcement agents. A mere 4% of Americans believe that background checks for all gun purchases should not be required. These statistics show that the majority of Americans do believe in the right of all Americans to own firearms, yet they also show that an even larger majority believe that some form of gun control is necessary.

Unfortunately, the common opinions that the majority of Americans share are often ignored in the debate over gun control. In today’s society, you are either a gun-toting fanatic or a tyrant determined to strip away the rights of Americans, and this is no way to actually make any progress on the issue.

Pro-gun control advocates must understand that any sort of full ban on firearms is expensive, impossible to enforce, and only opens up a new black market. People looking to do evil can and will find ways to avoid the law. It is also important to acknowledge that the Texas gunman was shot by an armed bystander, proving that there is in fact a benefit to legal gun ownership. The man who shot Kelley was a former firearms instructor, is mentally sane, has no history of violent criminal behavior, and is someone who deserves the right to own a firearm. While the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms to all citizens is certainly flawed in wording, clarity, and modern day relevance, it still is the law of the land and is not something that can be changed very easily, especially with the majority of citizens and government officials against any such change.

However, anti-gun control advocates must also understand that the purchase of many of the firearms used in mass shootings in recent years could have been stopped by stronger background checks and more laws that prohibit certain individuals from purchasing firearms. In the case of the shooting in Texas, Kelley was by law prohibited from obtaining a gun due to past charges of domestic violence and due to a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force. Kelley also had documented mental health issues, and even escaped from a mental health facility in 2012. Still, a lack of communication from the Air Force about these obvious red flags allowed Kelley to purchase the guns used in the shooting legally. While Kelley was stopped by an innocent bystander, it is important to understand that the line between responsible and legitimate self-defense and pure vigilantism is often blurred, and that, as in the case of the Las Vegas shooting, self-defense is not always possible.

If the United States truly wants to put an end, or at least a damper on the rate of gun deaths in the United States, both sides need to start small and see what kinds of laws they can agree on rather than propose overly ambitious objectives that serve only to deepen the divide between Americans. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the strengthening of background checks and the gun purchasing process that would, if better enforced, have stopped Kelley from purchasing the weapons he used in the shooting. On top of this, most Americans believe that violent criminals and people flagged as dangerous individuals should not be allowed to purchase weapons. There is no reason (aside from lobbying), that these bills should not be passed. To stop gun violence, everyone must first “get real.”


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